The Fact of His Name

Reading Time: 8 mins

What’s the big deal about Jesus’ name?

It seems that child naming, which was once a profound moment laden with significance, has become a vapid and inane task. Where once parents wrangled over the selection of a child’s name, searching for meaning, association, dignity and suitability (for countless generations choosing biblical, saint, and hereditary names), now they tend to choose them simply because they’re trending, utterly unique, or evocative of a favorite location.

Names are commodities you can buy and sell. For instance, there is a massive private industry that facilitates the name-changing process. Websites abound, and for as little as $20 you can join tens of thousands who have already engaged in self-naming. As one company put it: “It’s fast, it’s fun, and its cheap.” There are even Groupons! One fellow altered his name to Tyrannosaurus Rex because, in his own words, “It sounds royal.”

In the modern mindset, names are cheap, transferable and, well, for the most part arbitrary and meaningless. In an age when children are named after cars, stars and bars—with names like Porsche, Placenta, and Pang-Pang—what’s the big deal about Jesus’ name?

What’s the big deal about Jesus’ name?

The answer begins with understanding that in the Semitic, biblical way of thinking a name is an organic part of one’s identity. The concept of personal names in the Old Testament included existence, character, and reputation. They could in no way be considered cheap because a person’s life was inseparable from their name. Names carried inestimable value because a name was one’s life. In these ancient and more substantive cultures, “To cut off a name” was the same thing as liquidating the person himself (Deuteronomy 7:24; 9:14).

The concept of personal names in the Old Testament included existence, character, and reputation

In other words, unlike the popular Western perception and trite naming processes, in ancient Jewish thinking one’s name is synonymous with the very person — with who and what you are, what you say and what you do. This makes the giving of a name extremely significant and deeply meaningful; significant enough to say that the history of the world careened in a new direction when the Creator of Heaven and Earth gave His Name to a specific child indicating a fantastic new revelation of who He is and its impact on humanity. When the prophecies of the Old Testament and annunciation to Saints Mary and Joseph meet their fulfillment in Jesus’s received name upon Christmas, another fact of Advent is established.

Hebrew custom reflected this significance. Old Testament figures did not readily yield their names to just anyone. To do so was to give a person your very self; to bind them to your personal history—as much as is known about you—through your name. To give someone your name was to give them you!

Likewise, in Hebrew thinking, to receive someone’s name was to be bound to that person through an extremely intimate exchange. To know someone’s name is to carry them with you; you carry their history—all that publicly makes that person who they are—in their name. When you walk away from them you still have them with you because you know their name. So that when you speak their name you re-present them in their name: their name represents them or better, it re-presents them, it sets them before you again, this time in an intimate, inviting relationship. And for someone to know your name is for them to carry you—with all your history and character—with them. They have the liberty and privilege of representing your character and reputation—in short, you!—simply by speaking your name.

Consequently, Hebrew custom considered the exchanging of names almost a sacred covenant, a profoundly serious contract between persons tantamount to an adoption ceremony or enlarging one’s family through marriage, because to exchange names meant taking into your possession the other person’s character and history and bearing the responsibility of honoring, blessing, and safeguarding their name. “Take my name and you take me,” says one Jewish proverb, because it is impossible to divorce one’s name from one’s person, one’s being, one’s history, one’s character. Thus Solomon writes, “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches” (Proverbs 22:1). The Hebrews of old deeply understood the magnitude of responsibility that came with bearing someone’s name; and for that reason, one did not carelessly offer or receive names, like we do with the wait staff at Applebee’s. The distance between our culture and theirs can be measured by how easily we hold and esteem peoples’ names … “I’m sorry what’s your name again?”

Hence, the reticence of the Angel of the LORD to give His name Jacob or Joshua. Divine self-giving through the giving of the divine name hadn’t reach a point of apogee — that would happen through the revelation of God in the person and work of the Messiah — Jesus, who would be the one to disclose the divine name, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). But also think about how profound God’s re-naming a person would be: Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel. All of this is brought forward into the Adventen texts that result in the fact of Jesus’s name.

Luke first draws attention to the extraordinary person of Jesus by emphasizing “the name given to the Child,” remarking that His “name was given by the angel of God” (Luke 1:31; Matthew 1:21). That’s not ordinary. Most of us got a name from a Baby Name book or family heritage or some other practice of our time. Jesus is extraordinary because God named this Child not because He had taken a recent trip to Madison or Paris; God named Him with a name that indicated exactly who this Child was and how He would be known to the world: “His name was called Jesus.” This name is essential to understanding the Incarnation because the name itself is both a bold truth claim and a promise, and that’s why it is remains so frequently on our lips.

God named Him with a name that indicated exactly who this Child was and how He would be known to the world

The origin of the name reveals something that makes it even more extraordinary and the prophetic fulfilment of Scripture. “Jesus” is the Greek rendering of the Hebrew word “Joshua,” the name of the eminent saint who succeeded Moses and led Israel into the Promised Land. Those details are baked into the naming of Jesus. Originally, however, Joshua’s name wasn’t Joshua but Hoshea, which simply means “YHWH is Salvation” or, more loosely, “The salvation of the Lord.” These details, too, are part and parcel of Jesus’s ‘who-I-am-and-what-I-do’ name.

Outside of the Bible’s record of Jesus’s name, we actually have numerous ancient sources that give us the fact of his name. An ancient rabbinical tradition recorded in the Babylonian Talmud spells out the indictment against one “Yeshu Hannozri,” which is Hebrew for “Jesus the Nazarene.” In 

fact, renown historian and Lutheran scholar, Dr. Paul Maier, once commented that if Jesus had a driver’s license it would have said on it, “Yeshu Hannozri.” So how did we end up with the name of “Jesus” and not Joshua? It was because of the Greek inability to say the word “Yeshu,” it became more of “Jesu” just like in Latin. But this isn’t the only ancient source specifically mentioning the name of Jesus. Josephus Flavius’s celebrated dual references to Jesus — in Antiquities 18:63 and 20:200 — have provoked an enormous quantity of scholarly literature. They constitute the largest block of first-century evidence for Jesus outside of biblical or Christian sources (but by no means the only ones), specifically mentioning him by name on multiple occasions, as well as John the Baptist and even Saint James the matured apostle, and may well be the reason that the vast works of Josephus survived manuscript transmission across the centuries almost intact when other great works, like those of Nicolas of Damascus, where totally lost. And there are others from the first century that specifically disclose the name of Jesus or, perhaps as we should say, Joshua.

Now because of Joshua’s unique role in the biblical history of the Exodus, and because this figure is so obviously a figure of who the Messiah will be and what He will do through an Exodus of an infinitely larger scale, Moses “gave Hoshea son of Nun, the name Joshua.” And as we known he became Israel’s greatest general, leading those redeemed by the Passover Lamb and through the waters of the Sea into God’s kingdom from the wilderness. Joshua or (Jesus) not only means “YHWH is salvation” but is declaratory of deliverance: Our God, the only true and living God, is the only means of salvation for humanity and the earth itself. He does not merely facilitate salvation, He is “salvation” itself. The name carries the idea of our being delivered by heroic kingly-warrior action and that what He does is utterly equivalent to who He is. He not only brings salvation, He is salvation. This name Jesus, then, is evocative of one of the titles given in Isaiah 9.6: “Mighty God, Prince of Peace.” The name “Jesus” shouts to the world the heroics of the Incarnation and the cross: Jesus — the Saving God — is the saving heroics of the incarnation and the crucifixion and the resurrection. When you see the crucified one, when you encounter the resurrected one, when you commune with the transformed-incarnate one, you have engaged God and therefore salvation itself, salvation Himself.

Jesus would be known to the world as Salvation itself, Salvation Himself. He is His name: Yahweh’s means of Salvation – Jesus. Israel’s redemption was not to be found in some thing, but in some one: Jesus – the one who was and is Immanuel, “God with us.” Jesus is the extraordinary one because He is the God-man; He is Salvation, not a way of salvation. To have Him, to possess Him or rather to be possessed by Him, is to be saved, and saved from the King Himself, saved from His laws that expose our treason, saved from the just punitive measures of the Great King, and saved into an adoption as sons replete with inheritance. It is the Incarnation, then, that makes Jesus of Nazareth so extraordinary. This person is, at the same time, a fully human person born of the Blessed Virgin Mary and God our Salvation.

Israel’s redemption was not to be found in some thing, but in some one: Jesus – the one who was and is Immanuel, “God with us"

When we look at the fact of His name “Jesus” we’re seeing not only His name but His very being, His character and His attributes, His power, His reason to advent among us. Names are obtained through three means: 1. Birth; 2. Inheritance; 3. Achievement. Jesus obtained His name all of these means compounding the prophetic fulfillment and factuality that this one is the Christ of God. He obtains His name by birth in accordance with Luke 1:31 and Isaiah 9:6; by royal and prophetic inheritance in accordance with Hebrews 1:4; and by achievement in accordance with Philippians 2:6-11:

Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus’s name uniquely identifies Him. He was given a name that is above every other name (Acts 4:12; Philippians 2:9-11) so that He may be rightly and readily identified all religious and political and historical figures. He was given a name that suited His office as divine Savior and King, yet as our fitting representative and substitute as “the seed of the woman” — the Virgin Mary.

Jesus’ name reveal three main things about Him to us: First, His presence (Matthew 18:20). Jesus guaranteed us His presence whenever we gather in His name. Second, His divine and kingly authority as the Messiah or Christ are bound to His name, which is why we constantly refer to Him as Christ Jesus or Jesus Christ; which in simple English is King Jesus or Jesus the King. His name also reveals, thirdly, His achievement: Jesus is the victorious Savior, enthroned and ruling (Acts 4:12). 

Jesus gave Christians the right to use his name, to call upon His Name. Others have no right to His name and therefore no right to His benefits or the status of what it means to be a citizen of the King. We, however, can use or appeal to the name of Jesus in salvation, we are to pray in His name, ask God for favor in His name, use His name in Gospel proclamation, instruction of command, entreating for healing, deliverance, when suffering persecution, to be justified, for forgiveness, for sanctification, for unity. It is the only name whereby we can be saved, which is why its frequently despised and rejected, but also why it is loved and adored. His name gives us, as Christians, our allegiance. Further, our reception of His name means that we bear the responsibility of honoring, blessing, and safeguarding His holy name. Indeed, His name is sacred.

It is the only name whereby we can be saved, which is why its frequently despised and rejected, but also why it is loved and adored.

In the giving of Yeshua’s name, the Hebrew custom of establishing a sacred covenant is achieved, because in receiving His name, claiming and appealing to His name means taking into our possession Christ Jesus’ character and history, a character of perfect righteousness, such that we need to be justified before God the Father, and a history that included making atonement on the cross, of being made a propitiation and suffering the punishment due us, a history that included victory and freedom from death and sin and evil and all that would and could hold us bondage. His character, His history becomes yours as we receive and take upon ourselves His sacred name.